You Are Still My Brother (Soul November 26th 1972)

In December 1988 our crew hurried to the Town & Country Club in Kentish Town to catch Little Feat’s return to London after 11 years away. Of course the late Lowell George was missed but the other five Feat were present, the T&C was the perfect place to boogie your sneakers away. & it was a blast to hear Feat favourites played live again. Halfway through their set the band were joined onstage by Bonnie Raitt. It would be some time before Ms Raitt was anyone’s support act again. Three months later she released “Nick Of Time”, her 10th record & boy did a lot of people like it, #1 on the US chart, the 1990 Grammy Album of the Year, five million copies sold. Bonnie was just as much value as a singer/slide guitarist before all this success & that night in North London she opened her set with a cover version of a song that stood at #10 in the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of 50 years ago this week.

Denise LaSalle had got it going on in 1972. Moving from Mississippi to Chicago when she was 13, Denise was 30 before she was recorded by Billy “the Kid” Emerson (“Every Woman I Know Is Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile”/”My Gal is Red Hot”) & just one regional hit was released on his short-lived Tarpon label. She had learned enough about the music business to, in 1969, form Crajon Enterprises with her new husband Bill Jones to manage her affairs. The decision they made to record in Memphis was absolutely the right place at the right time, Willie Mitchell, with his Royal Studio band based around the three Hodges brothers had the new hit Soul sound of the city. “Trapped By A Thing Called Love”, swinging, finger-popping, plaintive but sweet Southern Soul caught the ears of many to become a #1 R&B record for Denise, crossing over to the US Pop Top 20. “Now Run & Tell That” followed into the higher reaches of the R&B chart & now “A Man Sized Job” was her third Top 10 hit on the bounce.

Denise had written 8 of the 11 tracks collected on the “Trapped…” album. In her mid-30s her mature lyrics were fortified by a sturdy, confident backing band. “A Man Sized Job” is the lead 45 from “On The Loose”, one of just three of her compositions on a selection that was perhaps quickly recorded to cash-in on her popularity. Her Country Soul covers of “Harper Valley P.T.A.” & Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” are good but her songs, with something to say & said well, are the best of the record. The hits got smaller, though he still made the R&B chart, & it was three years before another album. In 1983 she moved to the Blues-based Malaco Records as a songwriter, stayed for 15 years, became “The Queen of the Blues” & even had a UK top 10 hit with the cover of the zydeco standard “My Toot Toot”. Later there were Gospel records, back to R&B & an album called “Still the Queen”. Catch a collection of her Memphis recordings, because you are worth it.

The Four Tops, Levi Stubbs, Obie Benson, Sugar Pie & Honey Bunch (sorry couldn’t resist an old joke) no, Duke Fakir & Lawrence Payton, were high school friends in Detroit when they formed their quartet. A decade later, in 1963, they signed with Berry Gordy’s growing Tamla Motown roster, had their first Pop Top 20 hit the following year with “Baby, I Need Your Loving”, their first #1 “I Can’t Help Myself” in 1965. Both were written & produced by Motown’s young tyro team Holland-Dozier-Holland & the hits kept right on coming with songs tailored to Levi’s strong, instantly recognisable baritone voice. The Tops became a cornerstone in the Motown edifice, the hit factory that dominated Soul music in the 1960s. The album “Reach Out” included six US Pop Top 20 hits, a title track that was the most obvious #1 record since that last Beatles 45, “Walk Away Renee” & “If I Were A Carpenter”, two well chosen songs by contemporary songwriters that expanded the group’s range. Then H-D-H left the company, there was just one of their songs on the follow up to “Reach Out” & the Four Tops were not as dominant. In the fast moving world of popular music that was then, this is 1972.

“Keeper of the Castle”, rising a healthy 14 places to #23 on this week’s R&B chart is the Four Tops’ first single on the ABC/Dunhill label – not on Motown, almost unthinkable. It was on its way to the US Pop Top 10, their first 45 to do so since “Bernadette” in 1967. Under the supervision of label head Steve Barri, Brit Steve Potter & his partner Dennis Lambert contributed the songs & production for this next phase of the Tops career. The “Keeper” album is an attempt to update their sound, more restrained, the group were in their mid-30s now, not always successful but Levi’s voice abides & Obie Benson, confident from his co-writing credit on Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”, has five of his tunes included, something that never happened at the previous label. Perhaps the Tops’ stylist for this “Soul Train” appearance was not quite onboard with the overhaul – check dungarees were never a good look, even in 1972 but the group was still popular. Another track from the album, “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)” reached a higher chart position than “Keeper” & R&B hits followed. The Four Tops were welcome everywhere they performed, audiences wanted to hear & dance to their favourites from the 60s & they obliged because oldies were never more Golden than the Four Tops Greatest Hits.

New to the chart at #58 is from a new label, a new artist with, certainly, a new sound. Timmy Thomas had moved from Indiana to Jackson, Tennessee to study Music Education. There he entered the orbit of Goldwax Records in Memphis becoming the keyboard player of a studio session crew making essential Soul records with James Carr, Spencer Wiggins, the Ovations & others. With the label’s demise he took a position at a Florida college, moved to Miami, opened the first Black-owned lounge in Miami Beach while pursuing his own music.”Why Can’t We Live Together” was recorded as a demo tape, with necessity being the mother of invention Timmy used a simple, contagious drum machine rhythm under his simple, sometimes shrill Lowrey organ before, after an almost two minute instrumental introduction he sings a passionate plea for peace inspired by the Vietnam War. Timmy took it to the newly-founded TK Productions where further orchestration was considered. TK founder Henry Stone had, as was proved in the following years, an eye for innovation & an ear for a hit record the demo was released & Timmy had a two million selling song.

Homemade hypnotic minimalism wasn’t a thing on the R&B charts of 1972. The subsequent album was criticised for a lack of variety though in later years, when we knew about drum machines, chill out & trip hop, it has come to be better regarded. Timmy did have three more records on the R&B Top 30, one as late as 1984.but never returned to the Top 3 of the Pop listing. He became part of the TK crew who were so influential in the new-fangled Disco music, he will be best remembered as a one hit wonder & what a hit it was.

“Why Can’t We Live Together” is a song that has endured. In the 80s Sade covered it on her debut album, in the 90s Santana included it in their live sets & in the 21st century Steve Winwood, who, knows his way around a Blues riff on an Hammond organ recorded his version with a Brazilian-Cuban percussion team accentuating the Latin rhythms & adding to Steve’s particular feeling & taste. So, while we are here…

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Get Back Jack (Albums November 18th 1972)

There are some much loved records on the lower reaches of the Cash Box album chart, those ranked between 101-150. The Stones “Exile On Main St” (#114) & “Harvest” by Neil Young (#115) had both held the #1 position earlier in the year & if you have recently added these 50 year old records to your collection then you are doing the right thing. Further down the list, rising four places to #139 was a group who took their name from a steam-powered dildo in William S. Burroughs’ novel “Naked Lunch” & who named their debut LP from the Bob Dylan song “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”. “Can’t Buy a Thrill” is a refreshing , erudite take on Rock, “post-boogie” if you like. In late 1972/early 73 we were discovering the well-crafted delights of tracks beyond the two Top 20 singles though did we know that it would retain its crispness for half a century or that we were listening to the starting point of great American artistry? Only a fool would say that.

In 1972 Steely Dan were a six man band. Donald Fagen (keyboards) & Walter Becker (bass), college friends from back East, in Los Angeles as staff writers with ABC, had a bunch of songs that it was probably best they recorded themselves. They had met Denny Dias through a “Must have Jazz chops. Assholes need not apply” advertisement & he joined session man Jeff “Skunk” Baxter on guitars. Drummer Jim Hodder knew Skunk & as Fagen was unsure of his vocal abilities David Palmer added his voice. Palmer sang lead on just the two tracks, more in the live show, & his short stay in the group means that he gets little credit for his contribution. I do know that when I sing “Like the castle in its corner in a medieval game, I foresee terrible trouble & I stay here just the same” from “Dirty Work” it’s his perfectly pitched, yearning vocal that I’m aiming for.

For all Becker & Fagen’s love of Beatnik Jazz (& conversation) & R&B “Can’t Buy A Thrill” is a record made by a young band who had been listening to the radio in the 1960s, their teenage years, when there was a Pop & Rock explosion. “Do It Again” & “Reelin’ In The Years”, those two classics that still merit airtime, are epic singles, the guitars of Denny & Skunk (& Elliott Randall on “Reelin’…) come correct & shine brightly. There are Jazz inflections, bossa nova rhythms but these are songs with hooks & choruses written by two young men intending to write hits. I could have chosen any track, “Midnight Cruiser”” & “Brooklyn (Owes the Charmer Under Me” were certainly in the frame, but “Change of the Guard” with its sprightly tenderfoot optimism, even idealism, makes the cut here. It may be an outlier from the rest & the acerbic seeds of the group’s sardonic lyrics that Steely Dan would cultivate are certainly present on “Can’t Buy A Thrill”. There’s an argument to be made that it is the most varied, most accessible, even the best of their records & I would listen to that reasoning. Myself, I prefer the jaded urbanity of their later lyrics matched to the sophisticated perfectionism of their music – I guess that makes me a Dapper Dan Man.

By 1972 Joe Walsh had established a reputation as a guitar hero with three studio albums by the James Gang, attracting the admiration of the likes of Jimmy Page & Pete Townshend without his power trio achieving the mega-success of theirs. The Blues-Rock of “James Gang Live In Concert” (1971) shook the foundations of New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall. On a couple of tracks Joe put down his axe to play an atmospheric Hammond organ, an indication perhaps that his musical ambitions went beyond an impressive, grandstanding 18 minute long jam on a Yardbirds’ song. He left the Gang, recruiting drummer Joe Vitale, a classmate at Kent State University & bassist Kenny Passarelli to form Barnstorm. So was this new album, “Barnstorm”, at #128 on this week’s chart, a group effort or a Joe Walsh record? His name was there on the disc’s label, the gig posters of the time have “JW & Barnstorm” on the bill It was a little confusing but despite the contributions of his new buddies (they wrote two of the tracks) I’m going with “Barnstorm being Joe’s solo debut.

Joe had followed his long time producer Bill Szymczyk out to the Caribou Ranch studio in Colorado & the Rocky Mountain way was having an effect. There’s a more pastoral feeling to his music now & an expanded instrumentation, Vitale brought along his flute, Joe his ARP synthesizer. “Barnstorm” is creative, adventurous &, on tracks like “Birdcall Morning” beautiful. Szymczyk’s skill in layering assorted acoustic & electric guitars gives the songs texture & substance on possibly the best of Joe’s releases. I chose the one hard-edged track, “Turn To Stone”, a song he revisited on “So What” (1974) because those trademark chunky, still melodic power chords are what Joe does so well. The record, with no single to promote it, was not a commercial success, the following year Barnstorm recorded “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get”& it made the US Top 10. Joe was having a good time having a good time in the early 1970s, in 1975 at the urging of his producer with no vowels in his name he was recruited by the Eagles, a regular job that he probably needed. Earlier this year there was news of a new record by Barnstorm, now that would catch my interest.

A story about a deaf, dumb & blind boy, you know “Tommy” (1969), had made the Who transatlantic stars. A monumental “Live At Leeds” (1970) repeated the rock opera’s double platinum status while the group’s composer, Pete Townshend, struggled in his home studio with the next concept. The plot of “Lifehouse” was so convoluted, the vainglorious ambition so far-reaching – music that could be adapted to reflect the personalities of the audience, culminating in a universal chord merged from biographical data – that Pete became alienated from the rest of his uncomprehending group members & estranged from his mercurial co-manager Kit Lambert who was in New York shopping around an unauthorised movie version of “Tommy”. “Lifehouse” remained unfinished when a new Who album was required & eight tracks from the unfinished project were used on “Who’s Next” (1971), a triple platinum landmark in early 1970s Rock. Interest in the Who, particularly in the US, had never been greater.

While Pete was seeking that elusive universal chord he became interested in the spiritual teachings of Meher Baba & had, with fellow acolytes, recorded a couple of albums inspired by & in tribute to Mr Baba. Initially in limited quantity Decca, the Who’s US label approached Pete about an official release, he took a couple of tunes from both , three “Lifehouse” demos & a couple more unreleased tapes he had stashed away & “Who Came First” became Pete’s first major label solo album. Over the years we have heard more of Pete’s home tapes. They lack the robustness of Daltrey’s voice & the intensity of the Who in all their glory but the tunes, the arrangements are all there & the gentler dynamic is charming. OK, the favourite country songs of Pete’s mystical mentor may not be to everyone’s taste but “Who Came First”, at #116 on the chart, with early versions of “Pure & Easy” & “Let’s See Action” is an insight into Pete’s process & a fine collection. The Who did record “Time Is Passing” I think that I prefer the homemade version on this record. Ronnie Lane of Faces was another Baba believer & in 1970 they recorded “Evolution” together for the “Happy Birthday” record. As “Stone” the song was later recorded by both of Ronnie’s groups, Faces & Slim Chance. It’s a lovely song, some great acoustic picking by Pete & a welcome addition to “Who Came First”. So, while we’re here…

Carpenters Of Love And Affection (Soul 12th November 1972)

At the beginning of 1972 Cash Box featured a rising young artist on their cover & spelled his name wrong! Al Greene was just 20 in 1967 when his debut single “Back Up Train” was an R&B hit & made the US Pop Top 50. The following 45s & album were not as successful. In 1969 bandleader/saxophonist Willie Mitchell hired Al to sing with his band then took him along to a new thing he had going making records for the Hi label. By the end of 1972, after dropping an “e”, Al Green had the fasting rising record on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 for November 12th 1972, he was the biggest new star on the Soul scene & when he appeared on the cover of Cash Box for the second time this year the magazine used the correct spelling.

The three Hodges brothers, Teenie, guitar, Leroy, bass & Charles, keyboards were central to Willie Mitchell’s plans at Royal Recording Studios in Memphis. Together with this Hi Rhythm Section he created a velvety, seductive sound, smoother than the sharp-edged abandon from across the city at Stax, still warm, soulful & perfect for the label’s new featured vocalist. In his youth Al Green had aimed to emulate Sam Cooke & Jackie Wilson, Mitchell encouraged him to find his own voice, to express himself in his own songs like the super hits “Tired of Being Alone” & “Let’s Stay Together”. You know these songs, I don’t have to tell you about the special appeal of Al Green, the new star of the 1970s to match those of the previous decade.

Commercial success brought great creativity & confidence. There were two albums in 1972, both #1 R&B, Top 10 Pop, & “You Ought To Be With Me”, rising a big 16 places from #29 to #13 on the R&B chart of 50 years ago this week, is the first of three 45s from the upcoming album to make the Top 10. The song, written by Green, Mitchell & Al Jackson Jr, the nonpareil drummer off of Booker T & the M.G.’s, is perhaps not as well remembered as the other two, “Call Me (Come Back Home)” & “Here I Am (Come & Take Me)” but it’s classic Al Green, you hear it & you know who it’s by. Here, on “Soul Train” it’s showcased in it’s full glory, while other guests were happy to lip-synch to their latest record Al brought his band, his song, his voice, his charisma & it’s a stunning joyous performance. As host Don Cornelius says in his introduction, ” there are many stars in the sky, Al Green is the moon & there is only one moon, there is only one Al Green”.

Texan Johnny Nash had made a mark as an actor/singer without consolidating his progress. A starring role in a 1959 movie didn’t lead to the parts that went to Sidney Poitier or Harry Belafonte while in his career as a Rock era crooner aspirations to emulate Nat “King” Cole & Johnny Mathis were unfulfilled. A 1965 R&B hit encouraged a move to Jamaica where studio costs were more affordable & Johnny entered a creative local music scene. His company signed the four Wailing Wailers to publishing deals & in 1968 his own fluent Rock Steady “Hold Me Tight”was an international hit. With Bob Marley in the US & Bunny Wailer in Richmond Farm prison it was Peter Tosh who had two songs on the LP that followed. Johnny’s subsequent records were more popular in the UK, we liked Reggae over here, & he continued to promote the talent of Bob, taking him to London to perform & record. By the time his version of Marley’s “Stir It Up” was another British hit CBS had taken notice & picked up his contract.

Now with better promotion “I Can See Clearly Now” rose 11 places to #36 on this week’s R&B charts. Recorded in London , backed by the Fabulous Five Inc, with a lyric of perseverance & optimism to a loping Reggae rhythm, the song was on it’s way to #1 R&B & the same position on the Pop charts of the US & the UK. It’s a smash, you know the words.It’s not Burning Spear, there’s no 7″ Disco-Dub version, it’s smooth, uplifting Pop-Reggae & was very, very popular. The accompanying Platinum-selling album included four Bob Marley, soon to be signed by Island, songs. Johnny continued to have UK hits with his sweet Reggae-inflected records, he was certainly an agent in the spread of Jamaican music & a champion of Reggae’s international star.

Listed as a new entry at #59 is “You Got the Magic Touch” by Limmie & Family Cookin’, a song I was not aware of by a group that I was. I went to the usual places, Y-tube, Discogs, Wikipedia, to find out more about Avco release number 4602 & found nothing about touches, plenty about magic. Limmie Snell, from Canton, Ohio, had been recording as Limmie B Good since he was 11 before forming a vocal group with his twin sisters Jimmy & Martha. Their first 45, “You Can Do Magic” (it was that all along) didn’t make any major impression on the US charts but here in the UK in 1972 the popular Northern Soul dance clubs were picking their own favourites & buying enough copies of them to gain the attention of radio stations so this unknown group had a Top 3 hit on this side of the Atlantic with their catchy bit of Pop-Soul. 18 months later they were back in our Top 10 with “A Walking Miracle”. Folk here remember dancing to Limmie & Family Cookin’ but a bigger impression was left by the writer/producer of “You Can Do Magic”.

Sandy Linzer & his writing partner Denny Randell worked with producer Bob Crewe & songs including “Dawn (Go Away)”, “Opus 17 (Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me)” & the almost perfect “Let’s Hang On” contributed to the maintenance of the Four Seasons’ popularity in the face of the Beatles-led British Invasion. In 1966 their own operation found success with the classically inspired “A Lover’s Concerto” for girl group the Toys then, two years later a pattern was started when “Breakin’ Down the Walls of Heartache” by the Bandwagon was recognised as a classic breathless rush of energy & made our Top 10. After Limmie & Family Cookin’ Sandy worked with Odyssey. “Native New Yorker” hit on both sides of the Atlantic while, in 1980, “Use It Up & Wear It Out” spent two weeks at #1 in the UK. Finally, I know, it’s a list & there are others, an old Four Seasons tune was re-made, re-modelled by the Spinners & “Working My Way Back To You” was another chart-topper. Flipping heck, Sandy Linzer knew how a hit tune went.

The Cream Rising To The Top (Soul November 4th 1972)

I’ve not taken a look at the US R&B charts from 50 years ago this week for some time & this time around I need look no further than the Top 3 of the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of November 4th 1972 for my selections. All three were also included in the Top 10 of the US Pop chart for this week – big hits then, you probably know them.

The Spinners, five friends from Ferndale, Michigan, got together in 1954. Almost a decade later the group was taken to Tamla Motown by their label boss Harvey Fuqua where, despite making some fine records, found that there was only space for one five man vocal group on the label & that would be the Temptations. They neither established their individuality nor achieved commercial success & were even working as roadies, chauffeurs & chaperones for other acts before Stevie Wonder handed the group “It’s A Shame”, not only their biggest hit but also one of their final 45s for the label. There were nine different producers employed on the 1970 album “Second Time Around”, their contract was not renewed & they moved on. G.C. Cameron, the lead on “It’s A Shame” chose to stay & his cousin Phillipe Wynne stepped in to join Bobby Smith & Henry Fambrough as one of three lead vocalists. No offence to G.C. but this turned out to be a smart Spinner move.

With the raised profile & goodwill from their 1970 Atlantic were waiting to sign the group. They were matched with producer Thom Bell whose work at Sigma Sound Studio, along with Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, was making the Sound of Philadelphia a very big thing. Atlantic, hoping to catch the wave of Bell’s slow heartbreak hits with the Delfonics & the Stylistics, released “How Could I Let You Get Away” as their first single but it was the uptempo b-side that caught the ear & “I’ll Be Around” hit the #1 spot on the R&B chart this week in 1972. The Spinners were as sharp & contemporary as their album, released in 1973, which produced three Gold records, four Top 10 R&B 45s. They they were, as you can see from the live clip, ready for success. With Bobby & Phillipe’s distinctive leads backed by great harmonies, slick dance moves & Thom Bell’s talent as a writer/producer they became one of the most celebrated vocal groups of the decade. .

Bill Withers was in his 30s before he recorded his debut album. There had been 9 years service in the US Navy before settling in Los Angeles, working a day job at Boeing to finance his demo tapes. “Just As I Am” (1971), produced by Booker T Jones (off of the M.G.s), included the single “Ain’t No Sunshine”, a crossover to the Pop chart million seller. Booker T had called on his friends to play on the record & for the follow-up Bill brought in the L.A. musicians who had played on his demos. Ray Jackson (keyboards/arrangements), Benorce Blackmon (guitar), Melvin Dunlap (bass) & drummer James Gadson’ all previously members of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band, shared a production credit on “Still Bill” (1972) & joined him on the road when Bill started his new full-time musician’s job.

This new unit made “Still Bill” a better record than the debut, adding a very cool in-the-pocket groove to mature, emotionally expressive songs that certainly connected to the record-buying public & earned Bill a place at Soul’s top table. “Lean On Me”, you know it, was a Platinum #1 Pop hit & now the smooth, insistent, resistance is useless, sinuous funk of “Use Me” was #2 on the R&B charts. “Live At Carnegie Hall” (1973) showed an accord between a great band enhancing the sincerity & geniality of a great singer that was life-affirming. A later move to a major record company proved to be less to Bill’s taste. The records are still warm & individual, there were still hits, but a production gloss moved him away from his original sound & the company often rejected tracks while making inappropriate suggestions for material & he stepped away from recording. For the rest of his life Bill Withers remained a grounded, wise, humble & gracious man. He had written songs that endured for the ages. “Ain’t No Sunshine” has been covered more than 350 times, “Lean On Me” & “Just the Two of Us” both more than 100, I’m guessing the regular royalty cheques from these classics helped him along the way.

Curtis Mayfield was just 16 when his group the Impressions had their first hit in 1958. In his hometown Chicago, as part of the talent gathered by Carl Davis at Okeh Records, he integrated his Gospel & Doo Wop roots into commercial Soul with rare songwriting skill. In 1961 the rather perfect “Gypsy Woman” was a big hit for the Impressions. Like many young black men Curtis had a developing awareness of the issues facing his race in the 1960s & this was reflected in lyrics expressing his concerns & aspirations. 1964’s “Keep On Pushing” & the following year’s “People Get Ready” were written as anthems & adopted by the Civil Rights movement. He was also navigating his way around the business of music & in 1968 he started his label Curtom with an album release by the Impressions & a firm eye on his own solo career.

On “Curtis” (1970) he revelled in his new artistic freedom. Songs like “Move On Up”, “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” & “(Don’t Worry) If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going to Go” were lyrically more profound while the upbeat rhythms, strings & brass of Chicago Soul were stretched by his understanding of the new progressive sounds of Black American music. The record was an artistic breakthrough & a commercial success. “Shaft” (1971) was not the first significant contribution to Black cinema but its box-office success & that of Isaac Hayes’ score really started something, a new wave of “blaxploitation” movies all with their own funky soundtrack. By the end of the decade most major black artists had entered the field but few achieved the standard set by Curtis Mayfield’s “Super Fly”” (1972) (I’m thinking Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”). Youngblood Priest was no “black private dick”, he was a cocaine dealer looking for one last big score. Curtis’ new gritty realism suited the neo-noir story as did the expanded musical palette & ambition of himself & arranger Johnny Pate. “Freddie’s Dead”,appears in the movie as an instrumental but when released, with lyrics, ahead of the film, it was gold records & Grammy nominations all round.They, the 45 & the album, are landmark records. 50 years ago this week “Freddie’s Dead” stood at #3 on the R&B chart.

Well, that’s some Top 3, a Golden Age of Soul or what? The Spinners, Bill Withers & Curtis Mayfield all made records that abide after half a century. Next time I’ll dig a little deeper, hit the lower reaches of the Top 60 where there are some pretty good records too. I’ll end with a live performance of “Freddie’s Dead”, stripped of the orchestral brass & string atmospherics, driven by the bass of Joseph “Lucky” Scott, the percussion of “Master” Henry Gibson, a man I don’t know on wah-wah guitar & the authentic star power of Curtis Mayfield. “Hey, hey. Love, love. Yeah, yeah”.

Do You Want Beans With That? (Cafe Culture)

Here in the UK, after 10 days of forelock-tugging, monarchical myth-making & the performative grief of our national broadcaster (luckily I have a TV with an off switch) I was able to raise my Victorian mourning veil to find that we now live in a Kingdom & have a new head of government whose pernicious economic policy has rewarded millionaires, leaving the millions struggling in an inflationary recession to their own devices. Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses only worse, probably. Trickle down economics – you’ve got to be joking but it’s not funny. Feeling a strong disconnection with the country I live in it’s time to turn to Sir Raymond Douglas Davies who, after inventing Heavy Metal with “You Really Got Me”, has for over 50 years cast a sardonic but still empathic eye on the country of his birth. The title track of his 2007 record “Working Man’s Cafe” is a place that I recognise & like & Jah bless Ray Davies for writing a song about it.

Mitchell wasn’t a fan of the Cockney Hut, on that row of shops at the bottom of the high-rise flats on the Camberwell Road, now called Tony’s Cafe, you’ve passed it on the bus. He reckoned that the proprietor had a grubby thumb in the beans as he handed you the heart attack (& beans) on a plate but that didn’t bother me, I was hungry. The Hut was warm, steamy & not-too welcoming, you were left to enjoy your meal in peace which was fine by me. Just 50 yards from my work it was an ideal morning stop for beans on toast, egg on toast to soak up last night’s alcohol & help with the headache. I told my foreman that I may be 15 minutes late but he would get more work out of me if I had eaten breakfast than on an empty stomach & hungover & he bought it (I was good at my job). When Mitchell & I were both off work, lunch at the Hut, a saunter to the bookies, a couple of pints at the pub on Camberwell Green then a few frames at the snooker hall was like being in an episode of “Minder”, the popular 80s TV programme. A long good Thursday afternoon.

I could search for more food related musical selections to accompany these memories but let’s stick to Sir Raymond & his group, the Kinks. “God’s Children” is possibly one of the greatest songs ever recorded, certainly the best song to be featured in a movie about a penis transplant.

A few years & a few jobs later I was knocking the heck out of old warehouses then making them nice enough for office space in Shoreditch, East London. It’s Millennial Central round there now but back then, while the developers were still making plans, the area retained enough of its proletarian past & grimy charm to encourage a spot of instant cash-in-hand overtime if you wanted to spend the night in the Bricklayer’s Arms (oo-er!). The construction crew were a lively, mainly Irish gang & life was too hectic for making sandwiches for work. At breakfast time we all descended on Anna’s, a cafe run by a Greek married couple on Rivington St, a path from Old Street to our site on Charlotte Rd. The rush & push for tea & bacon rolls was eased when the bosses allowed a couple of us behind the counter to vaguely aim the big metal teapots at a row of empty mugs. At lunchtime the home-made Greek-English meals – not many beans in those – were nourishing & for those of us who had drunk our wages before payday (sometimes that was me) there was a line of credit that was happily paid back on Fridays. Anna would tell us that she was only staying around until the “yuppies” moved in, which they would & did. Maybe it was what we wanted to hear but I think she meant it. If I was in the area I always paid a visit to Anna’s.

There are other cafes that merit a mention here – I never got round to writing that guide to the “greasy spoons” of London. We lived just 50 yards from the Regency in Westminster, big, efficient, an Art-Deco classic that had featured in movies. Open until 8 p.m. the take out jam roly-poly (a suet-based comfort dessert) & custard was often irresistible. The Vietnamese place in the Borough where the carb-packed spaghetti bolognese & chips seemed, to me, to be an unlikely popular lunchtime selection. The owner made such a fuss of my girlfriend on the day she joined me – she loved it. At my final regular spot, just off the Walworth Road, the Chinese lady always worried if we were a no-show for a weekend breakfast & she left her station behind the counter to hug me on the day I told her I was leaving London. “It’s only a cafe” said my companion. He just didn’t get it.

Of course most of these places have gone now (the Regency abides), gentrification of humble neighbourhoods has always been a part of an evolving city. I can’t say that I’m, like Larry David, too comfortable in the coffee & chrome joints where avocado has replaced the beans on the toast though I’m too polite to order some “vanilla bullshit”, I stick with a latte, coffee with milk – it’s a thing! In my small town it’s still the mid-20th century & there are still cafes where the breakfast options occupy half of the menu, where, if you ask nicely, they will stick their thumb in the beans when they serve you.

OK let’s end with a song about British food in its multicultural glory written by Joe Strummer, another another perceptive observer of the somethings about England.

Salsa In Africa (Fania All Stars)

In 1974 Don King, bookmaker-turned-boxing promoter & less than 2 years out of prison, was working on his big deal. George Foreman, the 40-0 heavyweight boxing champion was making short work of any challenger, former title holder Muhammad Ali, the most famous sportsman in the world had lost twice since his return to boxing after a 3 year ban for refusing the US’s invitation to join their army in Vietnam. It would be “the fight of the century”, all Don needed was the $10 million to tempt the protagonists into a ring. He found an unlikely sponsor in Mobuto Sese Seko the President of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo). The eyes of the world would be on his country & “The Rumble in the Jungle” set for September the 25th.

An injury to Foreman’s hand caused the postponement of the fight for six weeks but Zaire 74, a three day music festival, went ahead. The concert line-ups were curated by South African trumpet player Hugh Masekela & his record producer Stewart Levine. The best home talents , along with international African star Miriam Makeba, were booked along with a stellar selection of African-American artists. The plane to Kinshasa carried James Brown & the J.B.’s, B.B. King, Bill Withers, the Crusaders & the Spinners. Among King’s international investors & facilitators were David Hemmings, the British actor, through his Hemdale Film Corporation & apparently Colonel Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator. An original associate of his was Jerry Masucci, NY cop, then lawyer, now founder of the Fania record label. The Fania All Stars, a Salsa supergroup ensemble of some of the best Latin players around, joined the passenger list for the musically packed DC 8 to Zaire.

The All Stars brought along Celia Cruz, the charismatic, Afro-Cuban “Queen of Salsa” who, as a child, had learned the songs of Santeria, a religion derived from Yoruban by the African slave diaspora in Cuba. Exiled from home since 1962, Celia had become a significant representative of the Cuban-American community. Here, singing “Quimbara”, her latest hit, comparing life to dance, in Spanish to a French speaking African audience, we see the Queen in all her glamour & glory. The song was recorded for the “Celia & Johnny” album. Johnny Pacheco is Celia’s bandleader & dancing partner here. Born in the Dominican Republic, the son of a prominent local musician, Johnny had moved to New York when he was 11 years old. As a performer, composer, producer & co-founder of Fania Records Johnny was a central figure in the development & growing popularity of Latin music.

You don’t need an ethnomusicologist to point out the elements of African rhythms in the music of the Caribbean, they came over on the boats involved in a terrible trade in human beings. Drums were banned by the US plantation owners fearing that they carried a language & a message that they couldn’t understand. Those antebellum, antediluvian assholes may have had a point because the percussion on “Ponte Duro” is really saying something. I could list the members of the All Stars present at a momentous concert but would struggle to put faces to the names. The three featured sticksmen though deserve a shout out. Roberto Roena (bongos) led his own star band, Apollo Sound, in Puerto Rico. He later played with Manu Dibango, the Cameroonian saxophonist who was present at Zaire 74. Nicky Marrero, a master of the timbales, was born in the Bronx, New York to a Puerto Rican family & had been playing professionally since he was 14. Ray Barretto (congas) is another New Yorker of Puerto Rican stock. Ray was a big star, when artists across the musical spectrum (or “Sesame Street”) needed a percussionist, he got the call. Individually impressive, together that’s a triple threat trio of energy, showmanship & rhythm.

The progression of Latin music is more complicated than from Rumba to Mamba to Salsa. There’s a whole lot of rhythms in between as Afro-Cuban sounds spread around the Spanish-speaking Caribbean & continental South America before reaching the melting pot of New York’s Latin community. Their clubs were the place to be in the post World War II years the bands jammed & found work with & were influenced by the great Jazz musicians around. In the 1960s a cross-pollination of the sons & daughters of migrants, Nuyoricans, & their Afro-American neighbours in Central Harlem developed into Boogaloo, a Latin fused with R&B which produced many great records & was the very thing in 1969 when Ray Barretto & Mongo Santamaria represented at the Harlem Cultural Festival, the “Summer of Soul”. Here, from that year is Ray’s fantastic “Soul Drummers”. As Celia Cruz would always shout, “Azucar!”.

Dear, Oh Dear, What Dreadful Rowdy People (Faces)

In March 1970 Faces, three former members of Small Faces joined by guitarist Ron Wood & singer Rod Stewart from the Jeff Beck Group, released “First Step”, their debut album. Just three months later “Gasoline Alley”, Rod’s second solo album, with significant contributions from all of his new group, hit the shops, a more confident, more fully realised record than “First Step” which, according for the North American market had Small Faces on the cover! This, Faces still finding their feet in the studio & growing recognition of their singer complicated things. On the 15th of September 1970 they were at the BBC Maida Vale studio to record three tracks for the John Peel radio show, showing that live, onstage, they knew what they were all about & were the most exciting new band in the UK.

The words on the top of the page are the first impression of John Peel, the most influential British DJ for generations of listeners. He soon changed his mind about Faces, they were certainly rowdy, certainly not dreadful & in 1971, when Rod was at #1 with “Maggie May” he was there on Top of the Pops as an honorary Face, wondering what to do with the mandolin in his hands. This was the second session the band recorded for him this year. “Around The Plynth” is the rockingest, rawest track on “First Step”, Ron Wood, a bass player with Beck, playing a filthy slide guitar, Mac, as good a keyboard player as there was in Britain, Kenney Jones, the man to replace Keith Moon in the Who & Ronnie Lane, the nicest guy around. Then there’s the singer, Rod at the top of his game, his “Gasoline Alley” bringing melodicism to the toughest Blues-Rock. “Never knew what it was to be loved – bam, bam, bam” Oh my!

Ah go on, here’s moving pictures from 1971 of Faces performing “Plynth” in Paris. As John Peel said, “ the Faces for me recaptured the kind of feelings I’d had when I first heard Little Richard and people like that and Jerry Lee Lewis, in the same way as the Undertones were a few years later”. By 1971, with the group’s essential “A Nod’s As Good As A Wink…To A Blind Horse” album & Rod’s damn near perfect “Every Picture Tells A Story”, Faces were setting the standard for British Rock.

The Rhythm And The Blues (Soul July 2nd 1972)

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Cash Box R&B Top 60 from 50 years ago this week so let’s see what was new & what was hot on the chart for the 1st of July 1972. The Top 10 was pretty static, the Top 3 unchanged from last week. One we all know, “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers remained at #1 & was on its way to the same pinnacle on the Pop 100. Luther Ingram had been around the R&B Top 20 before & “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right”, rising from #9 to #4, was to be his biggest hit, on the way to the top spot & becoming a much-covered Soul standard. The one new entry was by an artist who had been pretty much guaranteed a high placing for any of her singles since her four R&B #1s in 1967.

That’s Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. “All The King’s Horses” may not be as well remembered as hits like “Respect”, “Think”, “I Say A Little Prayer” & about 10 others but it’s a little beauty, a slow burner with a couple of crescendos where Aretha raises the temperature. She’s backed by New York’s finest, Cornell Dupree’s guitar, Donny Hathaway’s piano, a strong string arrangement, bringing it home sweetly with her sisters Carolyn & Erma. The song is one of the four self-penned tracks on the “Young, Gifted & Black” album, as strong & consistent a studio collection as Aretha ever released. It was the fifth track from the record to be released as a single, all of them entering the R&B Top 10, With this following the monumental “Live At Fillmore West” (1971) & the release, in June 1972, of “Amazing Grace” recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, a great Aretha album & the highest selling Gospel record of all-time the Queen of Soul was at one of the highpoints during a long, glorious contribution to contemporary music.

Cousins Mel Hardin & Tim McPherson went North from Holly Springs, Mississippi & in 1969 were signed by Chicago Soul legend Gene Chandler to his Bamboo label. Mel’s mum Yolanda & a bunch of other family were involved with Bamboo too & the self-penned “Backfield In Motion” hit the spot, selling over a million copies. Unfortunately after just the one album, “Good Guys Only Win In The Movies” (1969) the label folded & it would be three years before the duo released another record. This time around they were taken to 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama to be produced by Barry Beckett at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The results were passed to the Stax label in Memphis who had a Sam & Dave sized vacancy on their roster since the departure of the Soul Men. The ballad “Starting All Over Again”, written by Shoals staff writer Phillip Mitchell, an arrangement nodding towards the sweet Philadelphia sound, is at #46 on this week’s chart. It continued to rise steadily becoming a big Summer R&B & Pop hit, giving Mel & Tim their second gold record.

None of the songs on the subsequent two albums Mel & Tim recorded for Stax registered as strongly as “Starting All Over Again”. Of course, like everything that came out of the Shoals at this time, they were strong, punchy as heck & well worth a listen but lacked that something to get them noticed. Meanwhile just across town in another Sheffield studio they were trying to find that something too.

Z.Z. (Arzell) Hill moved from Texas to Los Angeles in 1963, the singles & two LPs released in the next 5 years by Kent Records of a quality that was not reflected in commercial success. Try his version of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises”. A move to Capricorn Records in Georgia was unsatisfactory for both sides & Z.Z’s contract was sold to Jerry Williams who in 1970, sick of being told what to do by labels who then didn’t pay him properly for his records & compositions, had started his own production company, his own label & re-invented himself as Swamp Dogg. His album “Total Destruction of the Mind” is an Acid-Soul attempt to achieve exactly that, the price of Swamp’s new independence was he lacked a promo budget to get the record heard. It’s wild, ambitious fearless ranked alongside Sly, Curtis, Funkadelic (even Frank Zappa) in 1970 & still a classic now.

Swamp Dogg had plans for Z.Z. Hill too but the singer was unhappy about his new contractual arrangements. Apparently he showed up at Quinvy Studios for three days, laid down his vocal tracks, leaving the rest to his new producer. “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill” is a concept album concerning a man’s relationships with two women, the tracks linked by conversational interludes. The concept is loose, the chat at first confusing & the gender politics absolutely of its time but the Blues-Soul tracks written by Mr Dogg & former rock & roller Gary U.S. Bonds have quality & individuality, familiarity adds a cohesion to the record & the musicians, on furlough from the other two more well-known local studios, particularly guitarist Pete Carr, revel in the space given to them. “Second Chance”, Z.Z’s response to a plea for just such a thing, is at #56 on this week’s chart. In the 1980s Hill found a home at Malaco Records, recording a number of accomplished, acclaimed & appreciated Blues records. In my opinion none of them bettered “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill”, a particular favourite of mine & one of the great Southern Soul albums.

Music Of the Mind, Body And Soul (1st June 1972)

1971 had been the year of Isaac Hayes. Having already experienced great success with three albums of orchestral Soul the release of “Shaft”, a landmark of Black cinema took his soundtrack & theme tune to the top of charts all over the world – “can you dig it?”. Later in the year the double-disc “Black Moses” consolidated Isaac’s place on the board of directors of R&B. There was no new collection in 1972 but his non-album singles still attracted attention & 50 years ago this week, at #25 on the Cash Box R&B Top 60, his latest 45 was a tip to the times before “Hot Buttered Soul” (1969) had sold a million copies & launched his solo career.

David Porter worked at a grocery store opposite Satellite Records in Memphis. A budding songwriter he found encouragement there, bringing along friends from high school including Booker T Jones & William Bell. When Satellite became Stax David was the first on-staff writer employed by the company. In 1965 a new partnership with Isaac Hayes brought “I Take What I Want” to Sam & Dave, by the end of the year “You Don’t Know Like I Know” was the first of 11 R&B Top 20 hits for the Double Dynamite duo. On 1969’s “Best of Sam & Dave” 11 of the tracks were Hayes/Porter compositions, all 14 produced by the pair. “Hold On, I’m Coming”, “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” & of course “Soul Man”, these were tailor-made hits from David Porter. With the the Stax/Atlantic split Sam & Dave were moved away from Memphis (they never made the R&B Top 30 again), Hayes was in the forefront of the label’s relaunch & it was time for Porter to consider a solo career of his own.

“Gritty, Groovy & Gettin’ It (1970), produced by Isaac, was certainly groovy & got it but David’s lighter voice with less grand arrangements was not gritty enough to emulate the success of his former partner. Now working with keyboard player Ronnie Williams “Into A Real Thing” (1971) opened with an elongated “Hang On Sloopy”, plenty of spoken interludes stretching the song to 11 minutes but Isaac had already done that. “Victim Of The Joke? – An Opera”, also 1971, was more inspired, more imaginative & more like it. A concept album about a love affair, the songs linked by “interludes”, an uptempo cover of Lennon & McCartney’s “Help”, the 10 minute “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over” a standout in a classy collection which reminds me of Swamp Dogg’s work with Z.Z. Hill. “Ain’t That Loving You Baby (For More Reasons Than One)”, a Homer Banks song, originally recorded by Johnnie Taylor in 1967, which became a Jamaican favourite when Alton Ellis & U Roy took a tilt at it, reunites the ace pair. It’s a classic propulsive Stax tune, Isaac’s deep voice giving some bottom to David’s sweeter tones, the boys in the studio who had replaced Booker T & the M.G.s bringing the sound from the mid-60s into 1972. It’s just a great, joyous noise. David Porter never had the solo success of his old sparring partner but when the accolades, the entries to Halls of Fame came around he was rightly remembered & included for his contribution to the 200 or so songs they wrote together.

In the early 1960s Atlantic Records were finding that their classic R&B sound, so influential through the previous decade, was proving to be less attractive to contemporary audiences. It was the success of Solomon Burke that reinvigorated the label, a bellwether that the road to Soul was the one to follow. Born in Philadelphia Solomon became a pastor of his grandmother’s church at 12 years old. The “Boy Wonder Preacher” mixed sermons & songs on local radio stations & obtained a record deal as a result of winning a Gospel talent contest. Five years later he arrived at Atlantic a seasoned vocalist of great strength, emotion & a range encompassing Gospel, Country, Blues & Jazz, the records given a sophisticated Uptown sheen by producer Bert Berns. A string of R&B hits followed with no great crossover on to the Pop chart (his recording of “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” missed the Top 50), still the “Rock & Soul” album (1964), Solomon was now “the King of” that, included seven tracks that made the Top 100 while the following year was his most successful yet. The arrival of younger, more marketable stars like Aretha & Wilson Pickett meant that he was no longer the label’s primary artist. Always strong-minded, with an eye on the business & an expanding family (Solomon eventually had 21 children) he felt that it was time to move on.

After a spell at Bell Records where he was most successful with his cover of Creedence’s “Proud Mary” he moved to MGM, a company whose main business was movies, & they matched Solomon with a Blaxploitation film, the current thing after the success of “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” & “Shaft”, that needed a soundtrack. “Cool Breeze”, a remake of John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle”, is not widely remembered but the trailer looks pretty cool (“the dude with the diamonds is deadly!”) & Burke, with orchestration assistance from Gene Page, does an impressive job. A mash-up of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” with a W.C. Fields impression is a little random but the required amount of wah-wah guitar makes for a pretty funky album. The single “Love’s Street & Fool’s Road” is in its last week on the R&B chart at #60, it had been in the Top 20. Solomon never had big hits again, he returned to Gospel & Country, took care of his mortuary & limousine businesses & became more involved with the church. In 2002 he won a Grammy for “Don’t Give Up On Me”, an album where Tom Waits, Dylan, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello & others were happy to donate songs & plenty were happy to listen to one of the greats sing them.

#60

In May 1971 Stevie Wonder turned 21 & took advantage of a clause in his contract with Tamla Motown, signed back when he was “Little Stevie”, which allowed him to void said document. Of course greater financial remuneration in the form of increased royalty payments was a concern but Stevie wanted complete creative control over the music he made. Throughout the 1960s we had seen & heard the Boy Wonder growing up. “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” (1965), “I Was Made To Love Her” (1967) & “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” (1970) – his fifth R&B #1, his 10th single to enter the US Pop Top 10 – were among the best records of their years, his other fine 45s are a long list but I must check for “Heaven Help Us All” (1970), an empathic Gospel-infused signpost to his developing awareness & maturity. The “Where I’m Coming From” album (1971) was written & produced by Stevie knowing that the contract deadline would limit any label interference. He was playing with his new toys, the studio, his Hohner clavinet & synth-bass, pursuing his personal ambition, responding to Soul’s new directions. The first 45 from the record, “Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer” didn’t connect with the public, “If You Really Love Me” put him back in the Pop Top 10.

Stevie was ready to let loose on “Music Of My Mind” (1972), still with Tamla having got what he asked for & aware that he would need assistance to realise his inner visions (geddit?) he approached Malcolm Cecil & Robert Margouleff, synthesizer pioneers, builders/operators of TONTO, the largest multitimbral polyphonic analog (say what?) synth ever. Together they conjured an innovative, modern sound, electronic music had never been so funky or so integrated into contemporary music. In 1970 Stevie had married Syreeta Wright, our boy was in love, “Happier Than The Morning Sun”, & he melodiously wanted to tell her that “I Love Everything About You”. On “Sweet Little Girl” he even sings “your baby loves you more than I love my clavinet”. The dreamy “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)”, cut down from eight minutes to three & a half for the 45 is at #27 on this week’s R&B chart. It was not one of Stevie’s biggest records but, like the album, it still sounds fresh & impressive 50 years on.

Buoyed by this burst of creativity Stevie kept busy in 1972. “Syreeta”, the record he made with his wife is a fine companion piece to “Music Of My Mind”, a tour supporting the Rolling Stones introduced him to a new Rock audience then in October along came “Talking Book”. You know that one, from “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” through “Tuesday Heartbreak” (oh my!) & “Superstition” to “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” it’s one of the most perfect records you’ll ever hear.

The Woman’s Got Soul (Soul 30th April 1972)

When Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production wizards behind so many of the label’s great hits, left Tamla Motown to start up their own operation they knew that they would need a girl group on their roster. Their songs for Martha & the Vandellas & the Supremes had moved the sound along from Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals & the Ronettes (not forgetting the Shirelles, the Chiffons & the Shangri-Las) maintaining the female vocal group’s importance in American R&B/Soul. The first release on H-D-H’s Hot Wax label in 1969 was by Honey Cone, a trio from Los Angeles, by the 30th April 1972 the group were the girl group of the day, enjoying their fifth entry into the Top 10 of the Cash Box R&B Top 60.

Honey Cone had connections, lead singer Edna Wright was the sister of Darlene Love, the go-to vocalist on many of Phil Spector recordings. She & Carolyn Willis had sung on many sessions, Shelly Clark had been an Ikette. It was when Darlene was unable to fulfill a TV date on “The Andy Williams Show” that the stand-in trio were seen by Eddie Holland, signed up & brought to Detroit to record. The majority of their debut album were songs credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”, H-D-H had not yet settled their publishing independence from Motown so could not us their own names. Ron worked for them, Edythe was a friend. It was Honey Cone’s fifth single “Want Ads” that really broke them out, #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, they looked good on TV in their hot pants, sounded good too. “Stick Up”, the follow up, put them back at the top of the R&B list, both bright, strong & driving like the Vandellas tunes, based on the new hit sound of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, a good sound & who cares when it was done so well.

The hits were both written by Greg Perry, producer & Edna’s boyfriend, & General Johnson, frontman of Chairman of the Board, flourishing with the encouragement of his new employers. On “Soulful Tapestry” (1971) Holland-Dozier-Holland stepped back from Honey Cone as it was apparent this pair knew what they were doing. Along with label mate Laura Lee, Millie Jackson & Ann Peebles, the album’s songs of female empowerment were part of a new thing. One of the three tracks H-D-H did provide, “The Day I Found Myself”, #26 this week was sliding down from the R&B Top 10. It’s a really good one bringing to mind the Marvelettes & the Velvelettes from Motown’s mid-60s. It’s also a change from the pure Pop-Soul of the previous hits, an indicator of the way Honey Cone could be progressing. Unfortunately H-D-H were discovering that there was more to the business of music than making hits, getting paid by their distributors was more important. With the label in financial trouble Honey Cone’s “Love, Peace & Soul” (1972) was their least successful album, a dissatisfied Carolyn left the group & there were to be no more recordings by the original trio. Honey Cone burned bright for a short time, their confidence & sass influential on future girl groups.

#26 down from 19

Barry White spent much of the 1960s in Los Angeles writing, producing, recording the odd overlooked solo record. His biggest success was with Felice Taylor whose “I Feel Love Coming On” made the UK Top 20 in 1967 – there’s a story about why I like that song so much but I don’t know you well enough to share it. White’s ambitions as an independent producer stalled until he assembled a girl group. He worked with sisters Glodean & Linda James & their cousin Diane Taylor for a year before launching them as Love Unlimited & 50 years ago this week their debut 45 “Walking In The Rain With The One I Love” was a big mover on the R&B chart, rising 14 places to #16 before crossing over to the Pop Top 20 in the US & the UK. “Walking…”, with Barry growling to Glo on the telephone, is from an album full of mid-tempo Love ballads, the Motown girl group sound with any sharp edges smoothed, the songs drenched in orchestration, the sweet, sweeping string arrangements of Gene Page making it distinctive.

Having discovered how to do it Barry did it better next time & “I’m Under the Influence of…Love Unlimited” (1973) was a Top 3 Pop & R&B album though I’m surprised that the title track & “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart it’s Spring)”, both dusted down from the Felice Taylor times, were not bigger hits. He was looking for a male singer & found one at home – himself. In 1973 his debut was the first of four successive chart-topping R&B albums, the following year “Love’s Theme”, an instrumental originally included on L.U.’s “Influence…” was released by the Love Unlimited Orchestra & hit #1 on the US Pop listing. Barry married Glodean & Love Unlimited became an important part of the international superstar Barry White Show, still recording & heading the R&B chart in 1974 with his song”I Belong To You”. Disco was coming & Barry White was leading the way.

Honey Cone may have been carrying the girl group swing in 1972 but the long-time title belt holders were not about to hand it over yet. The group had not been “Diana Ross & the Supremes” since 1970 when their lead vocalist left for a solo career & Jean Terrell joined Mary Wilson (that’s the lovely…) & Cindy Birdsong. Frank Wilson had been one of “The Clan” assembled by Tamla Motown to fill the gap left by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s departure & had co-written hits for the Supremes when Diana was still around. Now, as sole producer, hits like “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Nathan Jones” & the sublime “Stoned Love” showed that there was still life in & love for a group who since there breakthrough in 1963 had established themselves as the most popular female group in the world. In 1971 “Touch” did well on the R&B chart but tanked on the Pop albums list, other producers were tried but a planned follow-up “Promises Kept” was shelved. The next man up for the job was label stalwart, vice-president & legend Smokey Robinson.

Smokey wrote all nine songs on the “Floy Joy” album. They’re not of the same quality as “Ooh Baby Baby” or “Tracks of My Tears” but it’s a smooth, sweet, consistent record, Jean being the featured lead voice with Mary & Cindy having their moments while the Funk Brothers (guitarist Marv Taplin had played with the pre-Supreme Primettes before joining Smokey & the Miracles) hit all the right notes. The two uptempo tunes were released as singles, the title track making the US Pop 20 & “Automatically Sunshine”, a new entry at #44 on this week’s R&B chart, James Jamerson’s bass leading in Mary & Jean’s shared vocals, was more successful in the UK than in the US. Cindy’s pregnancy was showing, her maternity leave replacement Lynda Lawrence is on the album sleeve & sings on “The Supremes Produced & Arranged by Jimmy Webb”, released later in 1972. It’s an interesting record, check out Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”, that failed to connect with record buyers. With more line-up adjustments, disputes with Motown & changing tastes it would be four years before the trio, by then Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, returned to the Top 40 when Eddie & Brian Holland returned to produce an act they had helped to make the greatest,the dream girls, the most successful girl group ever.